I may not always learn new things, but when I do, it’s because I stay curious.
My blatant rip-off of the most interesting man, may not be a quote that makes me famous, but it does provide the foundation for the growth needed in life.
Curiosity is a habit and a mindset that keeps leaders humble and gives them the ability to assess a situation, appreciate perspective, and continue towards growth.
“I know how to do it!”
I’ve heard that phrase more than a few times from my kids, only to watch them struggle with tying their shoes, washing the dishes, folding their laundry, or any other number of tasks.
It’s a common problem, right?
As much as I’ve seen it in my kids, I’ve also noticed that problem in myself.
In my almost ten years of professional coaching, I’ve come across similar problems in people. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve coached who were unhappy in their jobs and looking to make a career change.
And when I assume I know what the answer is, I’ve always been wrong. When I’ve remained curious and allowed the client to dictate the direction of the conversation, not only do they come to a better conclusion, but I learn something new in the process as well.
My ability to stay curious benefits both me and my clients.
As leaders, staying curious benefits us, and those we lead.
Leadership curiosity manifests anytime we set aside our preconceived notions and explore possibilties with our teams.
In short, we stay curious when we ask questions.
What would that look like?
Who do we know that can help?
How can I serve you?
Where can we find the answers?
What makes this important?
Are we willing to fight for this?
The more questions we ask, the more curious we are, the better the end result will be.
Leadership curiosity includes our team members, equips them for the journey ahead, inspires action, and leverages critical thinking skills.
A lack of motivation could mean that our goals aren’t clear enough. A bigger problem is that we don’t reward ourselves for a job well done. As Shawn Achor highlights in his TEDTalk (and amazing book), by failing to reward ourselves for achieving our goals, we subtly teach our brains that our work doesn’t matter. In other words, by failing to reward our progress we learn that progress doesn’t matter.
Our brain says, “What’s the point?” and gives up.
If you’re struggling with the question “What do I do when I’m feeling stuck?” create clear, simple, and compelling goals.
2.) Be a Part of a Community
It’s hard to go it alone. Whether you’re an entrepreneur growing a business, a spouse improving a marriage, or a coach in athletics, you can’t do the journey of life alone.
A community provides support, encouragement, perspective, and wisdom. It gives us strength when we are weak and positivity in a world filled with the negative.
A community of like-minded voices gives us the endurance and accountability to press on when we feel like giving up.
If you’re struggling with the question “What do I do when I’m feeling stuck?” find others to walk the journey with you.
3.) Hire a Coach
A lot of coaching is accountability. More than the community, a good coach asks reflective questions, highlights understanding, deepens insight, and inspires action.
Great coaches help you see through your own bias, false beliefs, internal narratives, and weak spots. They equip you with the tools to overcome those rough edges. They leave you accountable to your action plan.
Just last week I was working with a client who didn’t complete all of his growth homework for the week. After talking about it, we discovered that it was an important goal, but not the most important.
Instead, before hiring another employee (his task he gave himself for the week) he needed to free up time in his calendar (his new task). With more free time, he would be able to get new business, get caught up on billing, and have space to mentor and onboard effectively. Completing these tasks would ultimately do much more than “hire an employee” and instead give him the capacity to build his business.
That’s a much more effective use of time!
Coaches can shorten the time it takes to learn tasks, complete projects, and accelerate to succes.
To truly transform your life, you must be willing to turn up the temperature on your relationships.
My wife teaches third grade and recently finished up a unit on cold-blooded animals. Throughout the unit, she reinforced the idea to the children that cold-blooded animals regulate their body temperature through external circumstances.
If the outside is cold, they are cold, and they have to find a way to warm up.
If the outside is warm, these animals are warm, and they need to go somewhere to cool off.
Humans, scientifically, are warm-blooded animals. We have an internal regulator device that helps keep us warm.
Unfortunately, when it comes to other areas of life, like relationships, humans tend to act cold-blooded.
Understanding External Circumstances
We, humans, are a funny bunch. We have this incredible ability to make up conflict and fear in our heads from perceived threats.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever lost sleep at night wondering what your coworker, friend, child, or significant thought of you.
*I’ll raise mine first.*
It’s a natural tendency. Our brains, uncontrolled, make up things for us to be afraid of. I’ve lost track of how many times I, or one of my clients, have feared a conversation they were going to have with another individual.
Inside of our own head, it usually goes something like this:
Oh now. I need to tell Samantha what happened last Friday at the meeting. I’ll be she’ll be upset. When she’s upset I’ll have to reassure her. I’ll start by letting her know I’ve already resubmitted the proposal. When she gets angry that I did that, I’ll tell her I was forced to. If she becomes irate, I’ll calm her down by …
The power of our brain can easily transform any situation into a quickly escalating argument of emotion.
We think fearfully. Because of this, we enter the situation fearfully. Finally, we unknowingly project that fearfulness on the other person. They sense that and respond out of fear. The cycle escalates. We think we proved our own instincts right.
The problem is that this really isn’t the case. This, from the example above, is a cold-blooded response. We feel as though we are victims of the circumstances around us. Unable to control the outcome, we give up the power to someone or something else to avoid personal responsibility.
The Warm-Blooded Response
There is another choice. It’s what I call the warm-blooded response. It is the internal regulation of circumstances and control.
Think of the thermostat in your living room. If a window is open to blow in a breeze and it gets too cool, the thermostat, ever in control, turns on the heater to warm the room up.
If warm air accumulates inside the room, the thermostat is still in control and turns on the air conditioning.
Either way, the thermostat controls the outside environment instead of letting the environment control it.
We have the same power in our relationships.
Recently, I was working with a client who offers a public service. He has both his own service route and a warranty side to his company where he operates as an independent contractor for a large manufacturer.
It was time for his yearly review with the customer service director for the large manufacturer, a meeting that my client always hates. In the past, the meeting has not gone well, and the relationship with the manufacturing company is fractured.
Before his meeting, he called me to review some of the information he was going to present. Most of our time, however, was spent on his mindset. If he went into the phone call expecting negativity, he was sure to find it.
If however, he went in under the assumption that they wanted him to win, grow his business, and bless him, he’d find that as well. He committed himself to look positively at the situation and providing honesty and insight into the manufacturer’s warranty replacement policy that he worked under.
Right after the meeting, he called and said that it went extremely well. The representative heard him throughout the conversation, and he got amazing reviews from the company. They made some suggestions for improvements, and he now has a better relationship with this manufacturing company than he has had in years.
All because of his outlook.
Relational Health For Leadership Health
As we continue our look at seven areas of health that are vital to avoiding burnout, we must look at relationships. Our closest relationships can be both the source of burnout if done poorly and the greatest contributing factor to health if done properly.
So how do we set a healthy relational course? In two key ways.
1.) Commit to being a thermostat.
The first step is to be the thermostat in your relationships. Realize that you are in complete and total control of how strong your relationships are. You control how often you take your spouse on a date, call up an old friend, hit the golf course with a coworker, and how large your network is.
If you want something, be in control of your own actions enough to get it. Regulate the temperature. If you want a better marriage, raise your own temperature of commitment, and build one.
2.) Be in a room set warmer than your own.
The second step is to realize that you don’t have to do it alone and get help. If your marriage is struggling and you want a better one, don’t go get advice from your uncle that has been divorced three times.
Build a friendship with someone who has been married for 50 years!
If you want your business to grow, create friendships with successful business owners.
To get out of debt listen to someone without any, instead of your friend sleeping on your couch.
Each of these is an intentional act to “raise the temperature” of the room you find yourself in. You’ll slowly start to acclimate to your new environment and rise to the occasion.
Relational health is vital to leadership health Examining your key relationships and keeping them strong, vibrant, and life-giving is the only way to remain healthy and avoid burnout.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to tell yourself, “Go take a nap!”
This is a continuing series. Today’s post is “Go take a nap.” In this series, we are examining leadership burnout and the steps you need to implement as a leader to avoid (and recover from) burnout.
Contain within the Hebrew Scriptures is one of my favorite stories of all time. Written like a great movie blockbuster, this story has it all.
The beginning of a revolution.
Elijah, a prophet to the nation of Israel is confronting the King. The wicked ruler Ahab has ravaged the lady with wife, the cruel and anti-God Jezebel. Elijah, the one urging the people to remain faithful to God, can only do so by confronting the King.
In 1 Kings 18, he does just that. After years of prophecy, it is time for action. Elijah emerges from a foreign town called Zarephath (which means ‘melting pot’, probably a sign that it had economic ties to military arms production).1 Elijah, a prophet of Israel, emerges from his hiding place, located inside of Israel’s enemy, from a town producing tools to destroy Israel, to tell the king it’s time to face the music. The nerve of Elijah.
Yet as we shall see, this will also set the stage for his coming burnout.
Elijah confronts the king, his evil wife Jezebel, and her wayward prophets of Baal in a showdown to determine the true ruler of Israel. A comedic set of circumstances follow.
Elijah seemingly gives the prophets of Baal every advantage. They get to build their altar first, perhaps ending the confrontation early if Baal shows up. They get to pick the best bull for the sacrifice, and they can have as long as they want to win the showdown.
After hours of worship and devotion to Baal, the prophets begin to tire. Elijah starts taunting them. Here, many translations limit the effectiveness of this passage by saying that perhaps Baal is busy traveling, deep in thought.
A better and more literal translation has Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal that perhaps they caught him while he was going to the bathroom. Baal would surely come to their rescue just as soon as he could finish relieving himself. How embarrassing!
After taunting the prophets, Elijah changes his tone. Now, he gathers the watching Israelites and begins to instruct them in the proper way to live. The drought the nation is experiencing is because of their inability and lack of desire to follow God. The drought will end when they realize this.
He rebuilds their broken altar, has the bull sacrificed, orders water poured on it, and prays to God to accept the sacrifice. Immediately, fire from heaven consumes the offering, the altar, and the water. The people are astonished.
Elijah orders the false prophets killed and murders over 400 people. Because of their faithfulness, the people will be rewarded with rain.
Elijah warns the king to prepare. After three years of no rain, it is about to become a torrential downpour!
At the conclusion of this story, Elijah is exhausted.
Additionally, the text tells us that Elijah then flees the scene and runs to another town that was twenty miles away.
It is here that Elijah falls victim to burnout. He has started to believe his own hype and self-importance. One author comments
“Elijah, in fact, is a vivid biblical example of Freudenberger’s observation that burnout “is the letdown that comes between crises or directly after ‘mission accomplished.’”… He expended a great deal of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy in his conflict with the prophets of Baal…His success caused the Israelites and their king to come back to the worship of the only true God. Shortly after that incident, he expended more energy by climbing to the top of Mount Carmel, spending an intense period of time in prayer… and, when that prayer was answered…outran King Ahab’s chariot.”2
The story then tells us that Elijah is overwhelmed and wishes he were dead. He complains to God. To him, death is better than continuing down this path.
(On a side note, we see this in burnout all the time. It’s one leading reason why the highest spike in suicide happens on Sunday night as people start preparing to go back to a job they hate).
In words that I have come to use often on myself and others when they are feeling overwhelmed, I love God’s response.
After listening to Elijah he gives his two commands: eat something and take a nap.
Elijah, you just did something important. You accomplished a big goal. Then you ran twenty miles. You’re tired. Exhausted. Spent. Have some meat. Eat some bread. Drink some water. Then go take a nap. We’ll talk after that.
Elijah follows these commands, and wouldn’t you know it, he wakes up refreshed and ready for the next challenge.
We too need to hear these words. After significant challenges, we can fall victim to overwhelm.
Don’t listen to those voices!
In future posts, we’re going to look at specific ways to prevent and fight against burnout. For now, it is enough to know this: if you’re exhausted, eat something and then go take a nap. We can talk after that.